This week was supposed to be a big one for Scandia, when leaders of the rural Washington County village planned to pack what muscle they could and head to St. Paul to lobby the Legislature for a new $4.6 million, 3-mile bike trail.
Instead, as with all things these days, the coronavirus pandemic remade their plans. A group visit to St. Paul on Monday was replaced by phone calls to legislators from Scandia Mayor Christine Maefsky.
The community of less than 4,000 people, primarily known as the home of the Gammelgården Museum and for its Swedish heritage, wants to see a trail built from William O'Brien State Park to the Scandia Village Center. The segment would make it possible for cyclists on the popular Gateway State Trail to bike easily and safely to Scandia, with a bit of country highway tossed into the route.
The trail plan has been years in the making. The state Department of Natural Resources secured the necessary easements to build the trail across privately owned parcels. Special legislation was passed in 2018 to remove an agricultural preserve restriction that was blocking the trail's progress across one specific parcel. Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, and Sen. Karin Housley, R-St. Mary's Point, each have authored bills to seek funding for the trail.
"This is a construction-ready segment," said Scandia City Administrator Ken Cammilleri.
Cycling Scandia, a group promoting biking in the region, says this is the year for the state to commit to building the trail.
A local survey of the biking scene by Cycling Scandia in 2017 estimated that some 3,000 cyclists visit Scandia each summer. The sparsely used rural highways in the area draw road cyclists primarily, and for several years the annual Minnesota Ironman bike ride swept through the town.
But Scandia, already popular as a biking destination, could grow significantly if it had a more direct connection to the 18-mile Gateway State Trail, which draws some 125,000 users each summer.
After a segment was built from the Gateway Trail into downtown Stillwater via the Brown's Creek State Trail, cyclists began rolling into Stillwater on summer weekends, filling up restaurant patios and patronizing other businesses. The traffic was watched closely by folks in Scandia, who envision something similar taking place.
"It will get families up to Scandia by bike in a safer way," said Janie O'Connor, a board member of Cycling Scandia.
The 3-mile extension they envision would start at William O'Brien State Park near the campground, head north and pass under Hwy. 52 in a tunnel before ending in Scandia.
So far, things look promising. Maefsky said she knows there's some money planned for it in the House and Senate versions of the bonding bill, as well as Gov. Tim Walz's proposal. Each promises a different amount of money, "but we do feel optimistic," she said.